Page 922 - Week 03 - Thursday, 10 March 2005
and say that there is an international shortage. He is the one charged with responsibility for the portfolio and making it happen. If he cannot do so, perhaps he should stand aside.
Mr Speaker, a letter to the editor on the subject was printed in the Canberra Times today. I would like to read the letter to the Assembly. It was printed under the title “Inexcusable delay”, and reads:
I have a friend who had a mammogram on December 15, 2004. This lady, whose family has a history of breast cancer, found out in February, nearly two months later, that she is dealing with a classified “aggressive cancer”.
Despite efforts by her GP for a quick admission, surgery for a bilateral mastectomy was not scheduled until March 7. Now the operation has been postponed until March 14. Despite a diagnosis of cancer and a treatment ranked as “imperative”, she continues to wait. If this is not a life-threatening situation, I don’t know what is.
Today in question time, my colleague Mrs Burke asked the health minister a question that stemmed from this letter. The woman who was screened did not receive her results for almost two months after that screening, despite the fact that she is dealing with what has been defined as an aggressive cancer. I find it appalling that this woman was not provided with her results much sooner, given the heightened nature of her case.
The reason I find it appalling is that when WIN news recently interviewed another Canberra woman, Jenny-Kate Harrison, about the delays she faced in getting an appointment to be screened and in receiving the results, the health minister, Simon Corbell, claimed that the results were not forthcoming because there were no irregularities and no problems; therefore, no urgency to get back to her. His exact comments exactly were:
Because the results were clear the individual concerned was not notified until after Christmas.
Mr Speaker, that is not acceptable. Ms Harrison’s mother and grandmother both died of breast cancer. Ms Harrison’s mother died within four months of being diagnosed with cancer and Ms Harrison has already had two lumps removed. It is easy to see why Ms Harrison was so upset that it took four months from her first call to gain an appointment to the time when she got her results.
Why isn’t this government aiming to get results back to clients as soon as they are available? The delays all seem to revolve around the lack of staff—from the radiologists who read the mammograms to the breast cancer nurses who are at the forefront of doing the screening, supporting clients and scheduling appointments. Put simply, this government has dropped the ball on breast cancer screening.
Mr Speaker, this government is not even providing enough resources so that the targeted number of clients that should be screened is being screened. The following figures are an indictment of this government’s ability to handle the health portfolio adequately. In 2001-02, the target for breast screening was 20,000 but only 16,675 tests were conducted. That was a great outcome in comparison with 2002-03, where the target for breast screening was 12,900, but only 11,327 tests were conducted. The situation declined further in 2003-04, where the target for breast screening was reduced to 12,000,